Build it and they will come: The Importance of Storytelling in the Digital World

Movies are not just for entertainment; they are stories, emotions, feelings and experiences coming to life. I have a collection of over twenty thousand. Some bad. Some good. The best have characters that live, that I can relate to, that I want to meet – and not necessarily because I like them, but they intrigue me. 

These living characters are created by the genius of the writer, the director and the actor. In the world of B2B marketing, the content marketer’s job is to create a living, credible online entity – a “character” if you will. Even better, a content marketer can bring about a phenomenon that captures people’s attention and is memorable. However, few content marketers have the genius of a Margot Robbie, Greta Gerwig, Taylor Swift, Christopher Nolan. Not many have the budget of a Hollywood Studio. But the best can create a character that the customer wants to meet. 

Business leaders are driven by the numbers – by inputs and outputs – by results. Especially those quarterly results on which their reputation and career rests. Therefore, it is no surprise they flinch at the idea of spending marketing dollars that do not directly promote the benefits and features of their product or service. 

I would not enjoy sitting in front of a screen watching someone talk about themselves for ninety minutes or so. I doubt many others would too. But that trap catches many a B2B marketer driven by the will of their business leader. Hence we read page after page, blog after blog, Tweet after Tweet all about the company. 

Such content portrays a character that is self-obsessed, which is not very engaging let alone likeable. The first task of the content marketer is to convince their leadership of the value of talking and telling stories about things other than the business. 

At the heart of a good movie is a good story. The story provides the context for the character to develop. The story is also the most compelling construct for sharing and remembering content. The story was the medium by which we humans passed critical information amongst ourselves for thousands of years before the invention of the written word. The Australian Aboriginal tribes used stories to share vital information about living in the bush for some 75,000 years before Europeans introduced the written word in 1788. 

Remembering stories is hardwired into our DNA. We’re able to recall a story long after we have forgotten what that brochure, whitepaper or presentation was about! 

Content marketers have to be good story tellers. Story telling is not a God-given talent. It can be learnt and, like all skills, once learnt it is honed with practice. 

While intriguing characters and a good story are factors that have been with us for millions of years, one factor at work in the online community is unique to it. The content marketer must get his or her head around it very quickly. This new factor is the audience. It is huge. It is complex. It is demographically fickle and it is faced with a deluge of other people’s content. 

It can be argued that this does not matter because the effective marketing team will create its own audience of identifiable individuals through a combination of Outlook, Salesforce, and LinkedIn. But most B2B marketers will recognise that within a nanosecond of creating, cleansing and stabilising those communities and those lists, they will be out of date. Individuals will have moved on or, more commonly, you will have discovered a whole new community that can influence the success of your business’ proposition. 

The content marketer’s task is no longer to create an audience and then throw (what you think is) relevant stuff at it. Now the role is to create and publish material (stories) that are of value to the audience and on a subject they have expressed an interest in. A new generation of social publishing sites (after Facebook and LinkedIn) such as Storia and Medium are providing us with a platform where we can publish to a subject as opposed to an audience. 

Content marketing is becoming a lot like movie making. Just as the producer, director, writer and actor does not know the name, address and job-title of everyone who sees the movie, so the content marketer need not know who exactly is looking at their content. If they like it and it is valuable, they’ll soon let you know who they are. 

The increased popularity of video content on almost all social channels enables the content marketer to be more creative than ever. Even for B2B businesses, audiences are more intrigued by authentic videos that capture ordinary people, enabling content marketers to show a side of the business they might not in written content.  

“Build it and they will come,” is the line often misquoted from the movie “Field of Dreams” starring Kevin Costner. Even as a misquote, it provides a suitable place to end this article given I advocate that good content will attract a good audience. In fact, the accurate quote is: “Build it and he will come.” That is better! I think we all should aspire to engage that specific individual we have been so assiduously targeting simply by creating a good story and publishing somewhere neutral where that individual is likely to find it.